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Plan Bay Area 2050: Santa Clara County Expected to Lead Regional Growth in Coming Decades

The Metropolitan Transportations Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments are charting a course for the Bay Area’s future with its devised Plan Bay Area 2050, a regional planning document slated for fall 2021 adoption.

On June 17, the organizations hosted a South Bay workshop to introduce the planning process and solicit comments from residents, which are due by July 20. The plan is designed to meet and exceed state and local requirements for progress in transportation, housing economic development and environmental resilience through 35 interconnected approach strategies.

With the Bay Area projected to grow by 1.4 million new households and 1.4 million new jobs over the next three decades, having that growth be sustainable and equitable are two of the main goals. In addition, the timing of the plan’s adoption is vital as the region is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, with near-term growth anticipated.

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“As regional agencies that focus on transportation, housing, the environment and the economy for the Bay Area, it really is our collective role to increase the access to opportunity,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who’s also an MTC Commissioner, said at the workshop. “That is the opportunity I think that lays before all of us as regional leaders. Plan Bay Area 2050 does that by creating more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant communities, for the entire Bay Area — a Bay Area that belongs to everyone.”

Of the Bay Area’s nine counties, Santa Clara County is the region’s most populous currently and is expected to continue to have the highest growth rate, with one in every three households located within the county. With jobs-housing ratio imbalances permeating the region, Santa Clara County is an area with more jobs than housing, which may continue as 35% of the Bay Area’s job growth is projected to occur in the county, especially for information and technology industries. However, with the growing households, jobs will also be added in education, healthcare and business services.

The new households and jobs will necessitate an enhanced transportation network. Last year, MTC established a Blue Ribbon Task Force to address the significant revenue shortfalls that transit operators incurred during the pandemic and help return ridership to pre-pandemic levels. Plan Bay Area 2050 would build off of that and enhance the frequency, reliability and capacity of existing local transit systems such as the VTA. Infrastructure investments are also part of the plan, especially for the region’s highest ridership bus corridors, including El Camino Real in Santa Clara County. There will also pressure put on major employers to offer free transit passes, free bike share memberships and remote work opportunities for employees.

With sea-level rise and associated flooding increasingly a concern, Plan Bay Area 2050 proposed nature-based strategies, elevating buildings and infrastructure and other interventions to protect vulnerable areas such as freight and commuter rail lines that span Santa Clara County.

“The draft Plan Bay Area 2050 has been under development for over three years, with approximately a half dozen different rounds of public engagement,” said MTC Assistant Director of Major Plans Dave Vautin. “Starting with the Horizon initiative in early 2018, MTC and ABAG acknowledged upfront that the future is uncertain. Together with stakeholders and the public. We imagined different potential futures for the Bay Area and how we can best respond as a region to the global and national trends beyond our control. COVID-19 really illuminated how essential this is planning for an uncertain world.”

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